I'm at a cocktail party, having a conversation with a stranger who has taken a polite interest in my child. She is asking the typical questions: Where does your daughter attend school? Does she play sports? Does she play an instrument? It's a fine discussion because my kid is my favorite person. Like any parent, I have to consciously stop talking about her so as not to be annoying.
Like any parent, I can't help but exude pride when talking about my little roommate who, at 10-and-a-half, has mastered the art of using my own logic to argue me into capitulation on just about any issue. As it happens and as it should be, she is way smarter than I am and that is why bedtime is a firm "Aw, hell, stay up as late as you want." I explain this—and my child's successful negotiation for extra Minecraft time—to my new friend, who laughs.
Then she asks if I have a picture of Ruby, and now I have a decision to make. Do I say, as I hold my phone with hundreds of stored images of The Christ Child, that I don't have any pictures? Or do I step from the ledge into the Inappropriate Comments and Invasive Questions vortex by showing her a picture? These are the choices I contemplate in a matter of seconds because I know when she sees the image of my black daughter, the conversation will veer sharply once the shock wears off. I, of course, want to share a picture because I love my child. But I don't want to share a picture because I'm exhausted from educating the unschooled.
I don't say this to be rude, but more as a fact. I'm tired of explaining that nobody makes an adoption plan for their child because things are swell. People may mean well, but the intent of most inquisitions do not align with their impact. I'm weary of explaining that my daughter isn't lucky, her father and I are; that we aren't "amazing" and "selfless"; that we didn't rescue our child from a life that "would have been so much worse"; that love is not enough to compensate for racial difference and loss of first parents, grandparents, siblings, community, heritage, lineage.
I'm tired of explaining that our child will not be "just fine" because she has us (the implication being that she wouldn't have been just fine with her first parents); that adoption isn't a win-win for everyone, a solution to an unfortunate set of circumstances.
And what were those circumstances, you ask? "That," I have told uncountable numbers of people over the years, "is private information that we do not share."
This is not to say I haven't made missteps and at times shared more of my child's personal information than I should have. In the first years, especially, it felt rude to tell inquiring minds that her story was not their business. I know better now that I don't owe the lady at Home Depot politeness when she asks if I like the color of my child's skin. I know I don't have to remain kindly silent when a teacher says my child doesn't need to worry about math because "she's such a great athlete." But even this many miles down the adoptive parenting road, I have screwed up.
While sitting around the pool at Ruby's auntie's house this past summer, I shared a story that a friend of mine, who is also a transracial adoptee, had told me about her childhood. It's a story she shares openly but there I was, yammering on as if it were perfectly legit for me to tell it. Before I could get very far—thankfully—my kid interrupted. "Mama, I don't think Melanie would like you telling her story." And then she added, "You know, sometimes you just say too much."
Like I said, the child is way smarter than I am. (For the record, I praised my daughter for calling me on my shit, apologized to her and later, to Melanie.)
To be a family formed by transracial adoption means you become public property—a commodity, an exotic zoo animal—any time you leave the safety of your home. Just going to Target or the grocery store or back-to-school shopping or to the dentist or—my favorite—to a tennis tournament (Ruby likes us to drop her off so she can go incognito). The confusion on the faces of folks is priceless, requires mental gymnastics and constant response calibration.
As uncomfortable and exhausting as all of this can be for me, I chose this. My husband chose this. Our introvert daughter, on the other hand, had no say in the matter whatsoever and landed through no fault of her own in a family in which she stands out. There's not a damn thing she can do about it. In some very profound ways—as an adoptee, as a black girl—she walks through the world in varying states of discomfort.
This is something I keep in mind as I make my photo-sharing calculation at that cocktail party. My angst is nothing—nothing—compared to my child's. So I smile.
Do I have a picture? "Only about a thousand." And I take a step from that ledge.